Russia says ‘misled’ by Israel in plane downing over Syria

A computer simulation released by the Russian Defense Ministry, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018, purports to show Israeli jets near to the Russian reconnaissance plane shown in red, off Syria’s coast before it was accidentally shot down by Syria forces responding to an Israeli air strike. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
Updated 24 September 2018
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Russia says ‘misled’ by Israel in plane downing over Syria

MOSCOW: Russia’s military Sunday blamed “misleading” information from the Israeli airforce for the downing of one of its planes in Syria last week, and denounced the “adventurism” of Israeli pilots.
Israel strongly disputed the assertion and vowed it will continue to act against Iranian targets in neighboring Syria.
A Syrian air defense missile downed the Russian Ilyushin Il-20 military plane on September 17, killing all 15 soldiers aboard and threatening to damage relations between Russia and Israel, which three years ago set up a hotline to avoid accidental clashes in Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to seek to move past the incident in spite of strong statements from the Russian military.
On Sunday, military spokesman Igor Konashenkov presented the results of an investigation.
Moscow has accused Israel’s fighter pilots of using the bigger Ilyushin as cover, causing Syria’s Soviet-era S-200 air defense system to interpret the Russian plane as a target.
Israel denied this version of events and its air force commander flew to Moscow following the incident, which Putin called the result of a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances.”
It was the deadliest known case of friendly fire between Syria and key backer Russia since Moscow’s game-changing 2015 military intervention.
Konashenkov said the Russian military received a call from Israeli command at 1839 GMT on the day of the incident to warn that Israel would be striking “north of Syria,” where the Il-20 surveillance aircraft was monitoring the Idlib de-escalation zone.
Russia ordered its plane back to base. Then, “one minute” after Israel’s call, its F-16 planes struck targets in Latakia in western Syria, he said.
“The misleading (information) by the Israeli officer regarding the location of the strikes made it impossible to guide the Il-20 to a safe location,” said Konashenkov.
As the Il-20 was landing near Latakia, one of the F-16 planes “began maneuvers” at 1859 GMT “getting closer to the Il-20,” which was interpreted as a repeat attack by the Syrian air defense and resulted in it being shot down, he said.
“Monitoring the Il-20, the Israeli fighters used it as cover from the anti-aircraft missiles” and continued to patrol the area long after the Russian plane was shot down, he said.
The Israeli pilots’ actions “either speak of their unprofessionalism or criminal negligence at the very least,” Konashenkov said, reiterating the Israeli airforce was fully responsible for the downing of the plane.
The “adventurism” of the Israeli military could have endangered civilian planes which use the same airspace to land at the nearby Hmeimim aerodrome, the officer said.
“This is a very ungrateful response to everything Russia has done for Israel.”
Israel’s military said in a statement its jets “did not hide behind any aircraft and that the Israeli aircraft were in Israeli airspace at the time of the downing of the Russian plane.”
It again offered condolences to Russia.
Israel says it was targeting a Syrian military facility where weapons manufacturing systems were “about to be transferred on behalf of Iran” to Lebanese group Hezbollah.
It has pledged to stop Iran, its main enemy, from entrenching itself militarily in the neighboring country and has carried out dozens of attacks on Iranian targets there.
Iranian-backed Hezbollah is also an enemy of Israel, which has carried out strikes in Syria to stop what it says are advanced arms deliveries to the group.


One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear

Updated 3 min 30 sec ago
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One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear

  • While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins
  • ‘The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future’
RAQQA, Syria: A year after a US-backed alliance of Syrian fighters drove the Daesh group from the northern city of Raqqa, traumatized civilians still live in fear of near-daily bombings.
“Every day we wake up to the sound of an explosion,” said resident Khaled Al-Darwish.
“We’re scared to send our children to school ... there’s no security,” he added.
The militants’ brutal rule in Raqqa was brought to an end in October 2017 after a months-long ground offensive by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces supported by air strikes from a US-led coalition.
But despite manning roadblocks at every street corner, the SDF and the city’s newly created Internal Security Forces are struggling to stem infiltration by Daesh sleeper cells.
At Raqqa’s entrance, soldiers verify drivers’ identity papers and carefully sift through lorry cargoes.
Inside the city, there are regular foot patrols and armored vehicles sit at strategic points.
Women wearing the niqab are asked to show their faces to female security members before entering public buildings.
“If there wasn’t fear about a return of Daesh, there wouldn’t be this increased military presence,” said Darwish, a father of two, speaking near the infamous Paradise Square.
It was here that Daesh carried out decapitations and other brutal punishments, earning the intersection a new name — “the roundabout of hell.”
While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins and there are near daily attacks on checkpoints and military vehicles, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Although a series of stinging defeats have cut Daesh’s so-called caliphate down to desert hideouts, the militants still manage to hit beyond the patches of ground they overtly control.
Some Raqqa residents say the city’s new security forces lack the expertise to cope.
“We are exhausted. Every day we don’t know if we will die in a bomb explosion or if we will go home safe and sound,” said Abu Younes, sitting in his supermarket near a roundabout not far from Paradise Square.
“There is no security — (the new security forces) on the roadblocks are not qualified and there is a lot of negligence,” he complained.
“There are faults that enable Daesh to infiltrate the city easily and carry out attacks.”
But despite the continued attacks, a semblance of normal life has returned to the city.
Shops have reopened and traffic has returned to major roads — albeit choked by the impromptu checkpoints.
In a public garden, children climb up a multi-colored slide and onto dilapidated swings as their mothers sit on nearby benches carefully keeping watch.
They are set amidst an apocalyptic backdrop of twisted metal and splayed balconies — the remnants of buildings torn apart by US-led coalition air raids.
Nearby, Ahmed Al-Mohammed pauses as he listens to music on his phone. Like others, he does not hide his disquiet.
“We’re scared because of the presence of Daesh members in the city,” the 28-year-old said.
“The security forces need to tighten their grip.”
Ahmed Khalaf, who commands Raqqa’s Internal Security Forces, defended the work of his men and claimed successes against the militants.
He said patrols are highly organized and that a “joint operation cell” had recently been established with coalition forces to monitor the city’s security.
“Recently we arrested four (militants) — it was a cell that took part in attacks that terrorized the city,” said Khalaf, sporting plain green fatigues.
“We are continuing our investigation to uncover the other cells,” he added.
“Daesh’s goal is to destroy the country and to not let anyone live in safety,” he said.
Security and stability are what Najla Al-Ahmed wants most for her children.
“The nightmare of Daesh follows us everywhere — whenever we try to rest, explosions start up again,” said the 36-year-old, as she shopped with her young ones.
“The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future,” she said.